INTRODUCTION – BEST CASTLES IN WALES FOR KIDS
Wales is castle country. This small, mountainous part of Great Britain has been fought over many times, and the legacy of this is over 600 castles. Castles can be a wonderful way to fire a child’s imagination, taking them back in time on an adventure or role-playing, slaying dragons or scaling walls and towers. Our little man loves them, and they have a way of inspiring him to embark on a storytelling odyssey. This is our guide to some of the best castles in Wales for kids: hopefully yours will be similarly inspired.
Caerphilly Castle is the largest in Wales, a vast fortress surrounded by picturesque lakes. It’s known for its leaning tower; nobody knows for sure how it ended up like this, but a 16th century manor house on a nearby hillside built from the same stone as the rest of the tower may be the explanation. The visitor experience has improved a lot over the years, with more towers and passageways now accessible. It’s great for imaginative children to explore, and parts of it – like the Great Hall – are intact enough for them to picture themselves back in the Middle Ages.
Castell Coch is a fairytale 19th century castle built on the site of an earlier Welsh fortress for the Third Marquess of Bute – its name is the Welsh for ‘Red Castle’. It occupies a romantic site in woodland overlooking the Taff Gorge and the city of Cardiff beyond, and was the Marquess’ rural retreat, albeit just about within sight of his main residence, Cardiff Castle. The famous Victorian architect William Burges created this fantasy castle, complete with lavish furniture and opulent decoration. You can now download a fairy app and go in search of fairies around the castle.
Powis Castle in Mid Wales was one of the first castles we took our little man to visit, and he was captivated by it. It’s essentially a stately home in a medieval castle, with some of the most beautiful formal gardens in Wales outside. Our little fellow was most enamoured with some of the paintings in the room inside, and he adored chatting with some of the guides. He also loved being wheeled along the yew terrace at the top of the garden, and sampling some tea and cake in the courtyard at the end of our visit. Older children can also follow a sculpture trail through the woods.
Conwy Castle is one of the most evocative of all the Welsh castles, situated by the side of the river of the same name, with views over the trio of bridges below, to the estuary and beyond to the Irish Sea. It’s also one of the World Heritage Site castles, built by the military master architect James of St George.
Conwy is the ultimate castle for older climbers, with eight towers, several turrets and a wall walk to explore, but for smaller children we suggest keeping a tight rein on them if you decide to venture up the stairs. The town walls are an amazing walk for more adventurous older children, but some of the drops are too precarious for little ones. The magnificent 16th century townhouse, Plas Mawr, might be a better place to take them instead.
Caernarfon is possibly the most famous castle in Wales, and it’s certainly one of the most imposing, exuding military might, and this can make a powerful impression on a young mind. It was impregnable and looks it, and it’s a great castle to explore and spark the imagination, where older kids can climb endless spiral stairs for views up to the mountains of Snowdonia, across to Anglesey or out to sea. There’s also plenty of space for toddlers to explore at ground level. Older children interested in soldiers and battles can immerse themselves in the Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum.
Harlech Castle is another on our list which is part of the North Wales Castles World Heritage Site, and it is the most dramatically sited of these, perched on the edge of a former sea cliff, with dramatic views from the ramparts of the coast, and the mountains of Snowdonia. The wall walks are wonderful, but you need to be watchful with curious younger ones too curious to see what’s over the edge. It has changed a lot in recent years – part of the former hotel across the car park has now been turned into a visitor centre and café, and the elegant new bridge to the gatehouse is a vast improvement on its old wooden predecessor.
Cardiff Castle, located right in the middle of the capital city centre, is a perennially popular attraction for visitors, with plenty to entertain kids. The family trail around the castle introduces them to characters from as far back as Roman times, when there was a fort on the site. Of what remains today, the keep tower is from the 12th century while much of the rest is from the 19th century rebuilding by the Third Marquess of Bute, which includes the lavish Castle Apartments. Here, kids can follow the Animal Trail, colouring in the accompanying booklet as they move through the house. Expect to find some exotic interiors, including the spectacular Arab Room. Some of the guided tours take you to highlights behind the scenes, including the Clock Tower.
Well off the tourist trail, Coity Castle dominates the small village of the same name on the outskirts of the town of Bridgend. Most of it dates from the 14th century, and it’s open to explore free of charge between 10 am and 6 pm. It’s a very substantial castle, with plenty of space to look around. Bridgend has another castle, Newcastle, on a hill above the town centre.
Skenfrith Castle sits right next to the border with England, and it’s the gorgeous centrepiece of a tiny, picturesque village complete with medieval church and fantastic gastropub, The Bell. It’s a small castle, essentially a central tower surrounded by a set of walls and corner towers, without much scope for climbing walls, so if you’re nervous about that sort of thing, it’s a good place to take your kids and rest a bit easier than at some others.
David Angel is a British writer and photographer who has been travelling and photographing the world for over 25 years. His work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the BBC, the Guardian, the Times and the Sunday Times. His images are frequently used throughout the world by tourism bodies such as Visit Britain and Visit Wales.